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'Ghost in the Shell' for beginners: Japanese film critic’s impressions of Hollywood film

18 Comments
By Casey Baseel, RocketNews24

One week after its U.S. premiere, DreamWork’s live-action "Ghost in the Shell" arrived in Japan, with Scarlet Johansson playing the lead role in the latest branch of the franchise that began as a manga in 1989 and became a breakout anime movie in 1995. Our Japanese-language reporter Kaori went to check out the film on its opening weekend, and her impressions are below.

"Ghost in the Shell" started as a manga from Masamune Shirow, and was then made into a theatrical-feature anime by director Mamoru Oshii. Oshii’s anime had a strong impact on many animators and film industry professionals, and so Hollywood’s live-action version has filled the hearts of existing fans of the franchise with both expectations and trepidation.

For those wondering if you’ll be able to understand the live-action "Ghost in the Shell" without having seen the anime, rest assured that the live-action version is, in a positive sense, intended for a general audience, and is an entertaining film. I’d go so far as to say it’s a science fiction film I hope other women will watch.

Briefly covering the premise, after miraculously surviving a tragic accident, The Major (played by Scarlet Johansson) has all of her body replaced with a mechanical substitute. As an officer of Public Security Section 9, she and her comrades hunt down a terrorist who has been hacking people’s brains in order to control them. Her powerful new body gives her superb combat capabilities, but at times she has a sense of sudden, vague uneasiness clouding her memories. Who is she really, and are her body and mind being controlled by someone? Soon, she may just find out the truth about her identity.

I believe many fans who were already emotionally invested in the original manga and anime have asked “Why is the protagonist played by Scarlet Johansson?” The Major’s original name is a Japanese one, after all.

But the movie is set in the near future, where aside from her brain she has an entirely artificial body, so in terms of outward appearance, I don’t think even physical gender is such an important factor. There are likely cyborgs whose brains were originally male, and now simply have female artificial bodies. In the world the film takes place in, anything is possible, and the people living within it likely don’t see ethnicity or skin color as something that makes any significant difference.

Of course, if you trace the roots of a brain, you get to the question of which country they were born or raised in, and how their family influenced who they grew up to be. Johansson’s performance in this film, though, has an unusual, difficult-to-define quality to it, perhaps because the Major is beginning to doubt the accuracy of her own memories, which helps drive the plot forward.

When Oshii heard Johansson would be plying the lead, he was very pleased, saying “She has a great physical presence, and can convey a dramatic tone simply by walking with a stern expression. She has so much presence and charisma.” I think his assessment was spot-on.

Johansson’s strength lies in quiet acting and body language. She has a real talent for those, and shown in her roles in "Girl with the Pearl Earring" and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In "Ghost in the Shell," the Major is forced to fight while grappling with complex psychological pressures, and Johansson is an excellent choice for such a role.

Also, while I’ll skip the spoiler details, the Major has a bit of a love scene, too. I really recommend this film to women. Johansson is cool, and if you watch it with another women, I think you’ll be really excited.

The manga and anime both include deep, philosophical meditations on what constitutes human identity and existence. The Hollywood "Ghost in the Shell," however, puts the emphasis on entertainment in an effort to attract a wide audience. To that end, the film is filled with exotic, near-future visuals and heated action scenes. Though I saw the film in 2-D, I imagine the 3-D version must be intense, especially during the scene where the Major jumps off a skyscraper rooftop.

The result is that the Hollywood "Ghost in the Shell" feels like a movie anyone can enjoy. I’ve heard that many critics in the U.S. are upset that “the appeal of the original version has been diluted,” but I was glad to see that the live-action version is an accessible film. After watching it, I think many people will feel compelled to watch the anime, and so, for newcomers to the franchise, this is a good way to start exploring the world of "Ghost in the Shell."

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Live-action Ghost in the Shell movie casts its first Japanese actor: Beat Takeshi -- Kodansha’s Sam Yoshiba supports Scarlett Johansson casting choice for Ghost in the Shell -- First trailer released for Fullmetal Alchemist live-action film shows potential for awesome【Vid】

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18 Comments
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Saw this movie on Sunday and I have to say that i enjoyed it a great deal more than I expected to. I've never seen the animated movie and knew nothing at all about the originall story so their was no baggage for me to carry into the cinema....and that may be a crucial element in whether you can enjoy this movie for what it is and not what it isn't. And one other thing...see it in 3D and preferably IMAX.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This article was hard to read, was it translated by a machine?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This article was hard to read, was it translated by a machine?

LOL

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Sounds like it's good. We'll get the "Why is she played by a white person" remarks, I have no doubt, which is always funny if based on a cartoon, but oh well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Cyborg action movie as chick flick!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The original anime character - Major Motoko Kusanagi - had a few cosmetic shifts over the years, but always was true to Japanese female lead anime characters, possesing a decidely caucasian facial appearance. Large round eyes (often blue), prominent nose and angular lines.

Scarlett Johansson fits the cool punkish looks of the manga / anime Major to a tee. Definitely cut out for it.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Johansson was well-cast imo, but the plot wasn't well re-worked; I'll avoid spoilers, but as a fan of the anime film I found this one to be a bit of a cop out on the big questions GITS asks

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I used to get a little wound up by remakes or reboots but I soon discovered if you look at them from the perspective of original stories, I inspired by the original then the anger subsides a little!

Casting issues and plot diversion aside, as Hollywood remakes go, it wasn't half bad! However it's quite tricky to appeal to everyone. I agree with the reviews stance that, it is a great introduction to the world of Ghost in the Shell and that it will hopefully encourage those who have seen it to check out the original anime and manga!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Visually spectacular. Narratively meh.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Without seeing it, I have a feling Nessie above is right. I think they should have risked a new face or the character. We've seen too much of Scarlet playing odd 2 dimensional characters. You remember when Madonna was in that baseball film with that great cast including Tom Hanks? We finally to to see her do a great job in a role perfect for her. She got to be somebody. Scarlet got some of that in the Coen's Hail Caesar, (wonderful film) but Ghost sucks character out of her. Do you really want HAL 9000 as the star of a movie for two hours? Well, even HAL had levels to him....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Also, while I’ll skip the spoiler details, the Major has a bit of a love scene, too. I really recommend this film to women. Johansson is cool, and if you watch it with another women, I think you’ll be really excited.

Yes, other women............

In the end, her name spoiler

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Scarlett is perfect in the role. Apart from Batou, the other members of Section 9 were under-used. Perhaps sequels will give them more air, but I thought Ladriya's cockney accent was uncomfortably out of place. All in all I'd give it almost four stars.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Perhaps sequels will give them more air,

Let the sleeping dog lie already!!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This is a very boring soulless movie. The original concept is probably a bit better I would suppose but not fantastic. The film is about nothing. You never get a sense that you know the world in which the movie takes place, nor do you end up caring much about the characters. Yet, even leaving aside the movie's tedious hollywood pitfalls and conceits, the idea behind it seems very passe and cliche. I don't think it's a very interesting idea anymore whether something of one "YOU" exists at all let alone whether you are anything identifiable without history, memory and time. So the original idea is rather old fashioned anyway. But, the movie still could have been done with some deftness and enthusiasm. I can't blame Johannson for failing to bring alive a lifeless and dull script.

I really recommend this film to women. Johansson is cool, and if you watch it with another women, I think you’ll be really excited.

I wonder what this writer is talking about. Once again Rocket news sounds like it's written by 12 year olds.

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While the movie lacks of "soul", the execution was wonderful, I think the American anime fans overreacted a lot regarding the white washing, considering that the anime "white wash" all the characters in the moment they decide to give them hair and eyes of different colors than black (the standard Japanese guy), I am not sure what would happen if someone in US decides to do a movie adaptation of Sailor Moon; Japan did it on TV and the result was awkward.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Pretty average film. Looked good, boring script and predictable story.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sounds like it's good. We'll get the "Why is she played by a white person" remarks, I have no doubt, which is always funny if based on a cartoon, but oh well.

@Smith, you should see how annoyed Deathnote fans are by L being player a black actor in the latest Netflix live action. The SJW community was upset that Matt Damon was cast in the Chinese blockbuster the Wall, even though the it was Chinese produced and directed, people lost their minds about his casting. Now that the movie has passed and was below average to average at best, people didn't care anymore.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Everything aside Director Aramaki executing people is new to me and is quite idiotic and... simply wrong. Thus I am against any further Western involvement with refined Asian symbolism... and everything else if possible, please.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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